Yes, I know, that’s what all the cognoscenti call them, but it sets my teeth on edge when they do.
As I said last night on Twitter,
They aren’t “mid-term elections” for a single candidate on ballot. Calling them that betrays unseemly obsession with presidential politics.
— Brad Warthen (@BradWarthen) October 29, 2014
This is not mid-term for anyone, with the possible exception of Tim Scott, who’s running for the rest of Jim DeMint’s term. Other than such special exceptions as that, this is a regular, end-of-term election for representatives, senators, council members, school board hopefuls, everybody who’s running.
But we call them “midterm” because it’s the middle of the term of the president of the United States — someone who’s not on the ballot. So, the modifier we now use for this kind of election only makes sense within the context of an office that is in no way involved with the election.
Do you see how something is just… off… about this?
Because somehow, somewhere along the way — perhaps because we are influenced by inside-the-Beltway media who nationalize everything — we’ve come to believe that the presidential election in each year divisible by the number 4 is the only election that counts, and that everything else is a sideshow.
Never mind that the actions of council and school board members and state legislators are likely to have a more direct and immediate effect on our lives; Americans have come to regard such elections as distractions from the Main Event. Which is why so few people bother to show up to vote in this elections, and those who do tend to do so because they’re mad at the president, not because they care about who holds the office. Which is why the president’s party generally loses ground in Congress in these elections, and why politicians get away with the madness of talking about the president on the stump, rather than about issues relevant to the offices for which they are running.
This kind of dumbing-down to be all about One Thing is enormously harmful to our republic, and certainly to the quality of officeholders we get.
This morning, I saw this Tweet:
Our election outlook has everything you need for election Tuesday. Take a look: http://t.co/OFxcS1MdKp
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) October 30, 2014
Which made me think, how on Earth could USAToday tell me anything I need to know about next Tuesday’s elections much less everything?
The kinds of things a conscientious voter needs to know about these elections are such acutely local things as:
- Where is my polling place?
- Who is going to be on the ballot? (Because not everyone you’re reading and hearing about will be, based on what precinct you live in.)
- Who are all these people running for school board in my district? (Something that even local media fall down on telling us, in most districts.)
- Where do legislative and council candidates stand on issues important to me? (Of course, with the way the Legislature apportions districts, the legislative seats are mostly foregone conclusions, but some few of you will still have a choice to make.)
- What are the records of incumbents, and what are the qualifications of challengers, in these local contests?
- What’s the weather going to be like?
There is no way that McPaper, the nation’s one completely generic and placeless newspaper, is going to help you with those things.
So… what is at the other end of that link on the Tweet? Why, an interactive graphic that’s all about… the likely partisan makeup of the Congress. Because that’s the only prism through which national media are able to speak coherently about these elections. Totals of Democrats, totals of Republicans.
Which has nothing to do with the way we, as voters, interact with the process. We get to vote on one member of Congress, and two Senators. That’s it. And the House districts are drawn so there is zero suspense over which party’s going to win them (in South Carolina, at least, and in most other places). To the extent that we get a choice, it’s mostly in the primaries.
In other words, the only way national media speak of these elections is in terms of something — the partisan control of Congress — that I, as a thinking voter who despises the parties, don’t give a rat’s posterior about.
Oh, and why is the partisan makeup of the Congress supposed to matter? As often as not, it’s couched in terms of what kind of time the president is going to have over the next two years: Will he have a hard time getting things done, or an even harder time? Or will it be impossible?
Because, you know, all elections are about only One Thing.
Except that they aren’t.